In early 2020, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the Small Enterprise Assistance Funds (SEAF) formalized a partnership to catalyze women’s entrepreneurship through gender lens impact investing in Asia. The partnership, which received financial support from the Government of Canada, set out to unlock private growth capital for small and medium enterprises over the next four years through the development and management of private equity impact funds targeting women as business owners, leaders, employees, and consumers.
ESCAP and SEAF announced Wednesday the successful launch and first close of the SEAF Women’s Economic Empowerment Fund (SWEEF). ESCAP has provided SEAF with technical assistance and grant support to complete the establishment of SWEEF. To date, the Fund has received an anchor commitment from Pædagogernes Pension (PBU), the Danish pension fund for early childhood teachers and youth educators, which will be directed toward enterprises owned, led and supporting women in Southeast Asia.
At the core of SWEEF’s investment framework is a women-centered strategy focusing on investments primarily in Viet Nam, Indonesia, and the Philippines in women entrepreneurs as well as businesses operating in sectors where women comprise a large portion of the labor force, those that deliver products and services meeting the unique and unmet wants and needs of women and girls, and those where the leadership demonstrates a strong commitment to gender equality and wider diversity. Local teams manage the Fund, the majority of which consist of women investment professionals who not only manage the investments to deliver financial returns but also to provide critical local gender context to ensure transformative and long-term impacts for women.
“We are proud to support the development of gender lens investing in Asia, and enable women owned and run businesses to innovate, compete and grow. We have learnt that meeting the needs of women entrepreneurs requires us to innovate and go beyond the usual lending modalities towards promoting mentorship, business development support services and access to growth capital and that is exactly what our partnership with SEAF offers,” said ESCAP Deputy Executive Secretary Kaveh Zahedi.
Jennifer Buckley, Senior Managing Director at SEAF, said: “We are pleased to announce the first close of SWEEF, which is an important milestone for SEAF’s gender lens investing initiatives in Southeast Asia, particularly at this time where women are disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. We would like to thank our partners ESCAP and PBU for supporting this landmark program. The fund will benefit from ESCAP’s extensive knowledge, resources and networks across Southeast Asia through its Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship Programme. We are heartened by the support and flexibility PBU has provided SEAF to reach this milestone, given the global travel restrictions faced in 2020.”